My Issue With Caitlyn…Is Not Really About Her

Standard

VF_JULY_COVER1433178010If you live under a rock, you most likely haven’t heard of Caitlyn Jenner. She has taken the media by storm following her 20/20 interview with Diane Sawyer. I have read quite a few blog posts regarding her transition from Bruce to Caitlyn. Obviously, people want to be first with their response. Even posting this a week out, I feel like this may still be a bit too reactionary for me. So please, read the following with a grain of salt (I’ve never quite understood this saying…).

There have been some really thought-provoking posts about how she should be treated and why Christians should be setting down their stones. However, there are many who still seem eager to pick up their stones.

My issue with Caitlyn is not entirely with her…it’s more with us.

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to the transgender conversation, I am at a loss for words. I don’t know what to say…and so oftentimes, I’m silent. Yes, I agree that we should love her where she is (which, in my opinion means respecting her desire to be considered a female). And that is messy. But Jesus taught us that love was never going to be clean.

Sometimes I wonder what Jesus’s conversations with “the worst of sinners” would’ve been like. Would He have tried to persuade them to follow Him? Would He have asked them to leave their profession? Would He have asked them poignant questions about their choices in life?

The honest answer is, I don’t know.

It’s always been amusing to me that sexuality has always been the issue that Christians seem to wag their fingers at the most. We say things like, “do you not know that the sexually immoral will not inherit the Kingdom of God?” Obviously, that would make them stop in their tracks and turn toward Jesus. We forget the context of what Paul was saying and just say those words to whomever we view as sexually immoral.

It wasn’t too long ago, however, that married people who had sex for other purposes than reproduction were considered sexually immoral.

Paul spoke quite heavily about sexual immorality in his first letter to the Corinthians. Obviously, Christians are quick to turn their when confronting those we deem sexually immoral. But what amuses me about that verse is that we often neglect the other things mentioned.

“Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people—none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.” (I Corinthians 6.9-10 NLT)

What do we say to the businessman who tithes regularly to the church but has practices that cheat others?

What do we say to those who continuously consume without giving to others?

What do we say about those who work for companies that steal from many?

What do we say about those verbally abusive preachers who go for the shock value each and every Sunday to get their point across?

We are silent.

Those who use the argument that Caitlyn is sexually immoral and deserves our judgment neglect to point out that the person who gives the most to the church might be running a company that takes the most from those less fortunate.

I am only saying that if we draw a line…then let’s draw a clear line and not one so ambiguous.

This much I know: we live in a world where things are not as they should be. For many of those who identify as transgender, they feel like their gender is not as it should be. Christians should be eager to converse with this. There is a common theme that things are not right. Yet we pick up those stones and take a few throws.

Gender is a deeper issue than sex. The unfortunate thing is that most will not see this. I have no idea what it feels like to go your whole life feeling like this body is not right. That something is terribly wrong. I empathize even though I don’t fully understand.

It is so easy for us to simply say, “be a man! You have a penis, now be a man!” But genitals do not determine gender (for more info on this, see Debra Hirsch’s book Redeeming Sex). This is a truth I am learning more and more.

There have been a lot of blogs about all of this. Part of me is saddened by how much we are analyzing her life…but she also is in the unfortunate position of being in the spotlight, and we idolize those in that spotlight (wait, didn’t Paul say something about those who worship idols not inheriting the Kingdom as well???). Sometimes I get tired of hearing how we need to treat things with more grace. I feel like it is just an excuse for not standing up for what you believe in. But I believe in grace…and not cheap grace. I want to stand up for grace.

I pray that God grants the same grace to Caitlyn that He grants to me. Whatever is going through her mind, whatever battles she is fighting, whatever issues she might have — I pray God grants her the same grace He grants me. Many times in my life, I could say that I was a sexually immoral, idol-worshipping, greedy, cheating, thief. God granted me so much grace in those moments…and He still does.

So before we shake our heads at what is going on, can we all just agree that this is more complicated than what it appears? And that life and love is messy? And that grace flows freely? And that we are in need of that same grace…even from our pedestal that we use to look down on our transgender brothers and sisters?

Church should never be the place where someone who is transgender feels even more out of place than he/she does in his/her body. Church should be the place where he/she feels like he/she is part of the body…and then moves toward redemption and restoration…whatever that looks like. God is pretty good at working those things out. So let’s leave it to Him.

Advertisements

Stop Going to Church

Standard

church-at-night-iceland_00449588Whenever I hear the phrase, “I need to start going to church” or “I go to church,” a little piece inside of me dies. It’s not that I don’t want people to be a part of the church. On the contrary, I believe everyone should be a part of the church.

But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.

One of my fears as a pastor is that many people in the western evangelical world have the tendency to view church as a service to attend. Because of this line of thought, we focus extraordinary amounts of energy on crafting a service that people will want to attend. I’m not arguing against excellence. I do believe that we should do things with as much excellence as possible. As a person who has been involved in theatre, being a part of something done well draws me closer to God. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong about pursuing excellence in preaching, singing, teaching, or any other aspect to the gathering.


 But instead of people being a part of church, most people just go to church.


But church cannot be confined just to people gathering to view a service. It has to be so much more.

I, like many of you, have been guilty of using the phrase, “The service wasn’t that good today,” or “The service was really great today.” Our view of church is primarily based upon the quality of the songs or the emotional weight of the sermon. Because of this, our involvement within the church is shallow, at best. What I mean by this is that when things change or when a particular church doesn’t meet our standards, we are quick to abandon.

We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.

There are various reasons we do this:

  1. We don’t like turmoil. We have an unrealistic utopian view of what the church should look like.
  2. We like to be surrounded by people with similar beliefs and opinions. It makes us feel more comfortable.
  3. Church is more of a hobby than a defining characteristic in our lives.

Church isn’t something that we can attend. Church is something that we must be. In our own lives, we all have good and bad days. There are days we wish that we could go back and and redo. There are days we celebrate milestones. There are days we mourn over missed opportunities. There are days we curse God. And then there are days we praise God.


 We treat the church like numerous whores with whom we divide our time.


And just like in our own lives, the church often functions the same way. Which is why we cannot just attend church. This is why church is something we must be. When we are the church, then we work together to prepare the bride for her bridegroom.

Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding. He wants us to be active. He wants us to serve. He wants us to remain faithful. But many of us are just sitting in the crowd waiting for the wedding to start while the bride remains in the back waiting for her faithful bridal party to join her in preparation for her big day.

Perhaps I am a bit optimistic in my belief that people can still gather and disagree yet partake of the Eucharist together. But wouldn’t that represent the Kingdom a bit more than what we have today? Wouldn’t Christ’s prayer in John 17 be a bit sweeter if we did that?


Christ is calling us to be part of the bridal party…not just attendees of the wedding.


Here is what I propose: we stop going to church.

We stop attending and we start participating. We stop sitting in on a service and we start helping. We stop looking to the church as a place and we start looking to the church as a people. Just like we have our good days and our bad days, so the church has her good days and her bad days. We wouldn’t abandon our own lives, so why do we abandon the life of the church?

In an age of consumeristic driven churches where there is a brand for everyone, we spend too much time shopping around and not seeing the damage that is doing to the bride. I said it before and I’ll say it again: we treat the church like numerous whore with whom we divide our time. This is the problem with simply going to church. It makes it easier to leave. It makes it easier to separate oneself from the life of the church (and I’m not talking about potlucks and game nights). It makes it easier for one to abandon when things get rough or when things don’t go “the right way.”

I have “left” 2 churches in my lifetime. I was heavily involved in both churches. One, I was active in the youth group. The other, I was serving with the worship team. Whereas both circumstances may have seemed right on paper, I cannot help but think, “is this what Jesus had in mind when He established His bride?” I never left the Church but I have left local churches. And how we view/treat local churches determines what our view is of the Church.

Just like all throughout the Bible, the life of the church (both local and universal) is going to be messy. There will be disagreements, fights, uneasiness, and pain. But aren’t these the signs of the earth groaning in labor? Aren’t these the signs that the Kingdom is “now but not yet?”

If we all stopped going to church and started being the church, perhaps things might change. If we remembered that Christ called us to serve His bride, perhaps reconciliation before desertion would be our first thought. If we remembered that one day we will be united in the Kingdom with the Church, perhaps that would change how we treated one another. Heaven could be awkward for many of us (myself included).

Let us begin serving through disagreements, fights, arguments, uneasiness, complacency, apathy, and anything else that stands in the way of us preparing the Bride for her Bridegroom. Let us begin being the Church that Christ called us to be.

Abstinence is Not the Answer

Standard

ImageI’ve been researching statistics on teen sexuality the past couple of weeks in preparation for a series we’re doing at Crash (our student ministry) entitled, “Sex on Fire.” I am more than saddened by some of the numbers that I’ve been seeing. The United States still leads among other developed countries in regards for teenage pregnancy rates. States that teach abstinence only have some of the highest pregnancy rates in the nation. 

For a nation that boasts in being a “Christian Nation,” our numbers sure do not prove that to be true. By saying that, I am not saying that I support the idea that America is a “Christian Nation.” That opens up a whole can of worms that I am not willing to dive into at this time. I am simply saying that the American evangelical church boasts in this title and yet, we lead among other developed nations in teen pregnancy.

As I’ve been preparing for the next three weeks of this series, I’ve come to the following conclusion: abstinence is not the answer. 

The problem is, biblically speaking, we are only teaching half of the answer. I have sat in on many purity rallies. The speakers talk about how sex is fantastic but should be saved for marriage. They encourage students to not participate in sex until marriage. They talk about the dangers of premarital sex. But that’s it. We talk about abstinence. But we never talk about pursuit.

I’m not talking about the pursuit of a relationship. I’m talking about the pursuit of holiness. Paul, in his letter to the church in Ephesus says, “Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need” (Ephesians 4.28, ESV).

The Church Father, John Chrysostom, wrote about this passage: “Where are they which are called pure; they that are full of all defilement, and yet dare to give themselves a name like this? For it is possible, very possible, to put off the reproach, not only by ceasing from the sin, but by working some good thing also. Perceive ye how we ought to get quit of the sin? They stole. This is the sin. They steal no more. This is not to do away the sin. But how shall they? If they labor, and charitably communicate to others, thus will they do away the sin. He does not simply desire that we should work, but so work as to labor, so as that we may communicate to others. For the thief indeed works, but it is that which is evil.”

It is not enough to just say, “STOP.” There has to be more. There has to be something else. There has to be the pursuit of holiness. This applies to so much more than premarital sex. This applies to any sin in our life. I fear that we teach “stop,” but not “pursue.” Of course, this line of thought is prominent in our society; it’s not a problem if we don’t talk about it. We ignore things and hope they will go away. But Paul never supports this idea. 

One must stop, but one must also pursue and labor. 

No longer should the evangelical church be promoting abstinence only. We should be teaching something more. We are teaching half-truths. We must begin changing the mindset from only “stopping” to “stopping and pursuing.” 

There is No Grace

Standard

Grace is a word that has been tossed around so much that it has, unfortunately, lost quite a bit of its meaning. I would endeavor to say that many of us have vague thoughts about grace. We might believe it is what saves us. We might believe that it is what God gives whenever we don’t get punished for sin. Some might confuse grace and mercy (which are two different attributes, one is not synonymous for the other). Some might think that grace has something to do with prayer. And then there are a few that might think that Grace died 30 years ago.

Whatever your thoughts, we can all agree that grace is a term that has been used quite a bit. It is for good reason. Ephesians says that “it is by grace you have been saved.” Grace is spoken of heavily throughout the Pauline epistles. In fact, we probably gather most of our teachings regarding grace from Paul, particularly from Romans.

So why do I want to talk about grace? Because there is no grace. At least not anymore.Image 

Grace used to exist. But now we are weighed down by phrases like:

You should’ve known better…

I expected more from you…

I can’t believe you did that…

When will you ever learn…

We’ve heard these phrases. Maybe from our parents. Maybe from friends. Maybe from fellow church members. Maybe from our pastor. When we hear those words, something inside of us dies. What is that thing? Our perception of grace.

In the evangelical church, we work hard at making sure grace is given to those outside the church. We want everyone to experience the grace of God; well, at least until you begin following Christ. When you start following Christ, you should know better. I mean, that’s what Paul is saying in Romans when he says “shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!” What Paul is saying is that once you become a Christian, stop sinning because you shouldn’t increase grace. Right? 

Sometimes the people who feel grace the least are the ones inside the church. 

If a Christian has an abortion, she should’ve known better.

If a guy has sex with his girlfriend, he should’ve known better.

If someone is given to drunkenness, he/she should’ve known better.

Drugs? You should know better.

Did something you regret? You should know better.

And on and on the list can go. Because once you become a Christian, you should know better. Once you become a Christian, there is no grace. Well, unless it is one of the smaller sins, like lying, cheating, coveting, gossip, laziness, etc. Those sins are covered by grace because they aren’t really sins. They are the things we all do…which makes them okay; because God can’t damn us all to hell. So if you do a small sin, God’s grace covers that. But if you do a large sin, like sex, drugs, drunkenness, etc., there is no grace.

I hope we are shown as much grace as we give. One of the saddest things I see is when Christians are graceless toward other Christians. Our definition of grace has been killed by people withholding grace. For living in a covenant of grace, it sure looks a lot like the law at times.